Dave Fry, WVFC CFI and Aviation Safety Counselor firstname.lastname@example.org
From Point A to Point B
There are any number of ways to get from Point A to Point B. Pilots, of course, have one option others don’t have. We can all drive, take public transportation (which will start NEAR Point A, and may end somewhere NEAR Point B), fly commercial, which has even more limitations. Pilots, of course, have the option of getting from Point A to Point B quickly and without being strip searched or stopping at whichever hub your airline uses. As they say in the airlines, an American Airlines pilot may go to heaven or go to hell when he or she dies, but what is certain is that they all go through Dallas or Chicago on the way.
So, how does one get from Point A to Point B? Everyone has a preferred technique, and mine is (usually) as direct as I can make it, so I begin the process by using Foreflight, and finding the Great Circle Arc between the two points. Sometimes the total distance is longer than the max duration of either the plane’s or the pilot’s/passenger’s tanks. I like having an hour reserve on both. Of course, the capacity and endurance of an airplane’s tanks are easier to determine with precision than the endurance of the pilot’s or the passenger’s bladders.
When the distance is so long that two or more legs are desirable, the Great Circle Arc still is the shortest distance between A and B, though you may not want to follow it. Things that may influence your route include: Special Use Airspace, TFRs, terrain, weather, sights you may want to see and places you may want to visit.
Another significant planning factor is the altitude – planes operate in a dimension unavailable to cars and public transportation. Sometimes you can fly OVER TFRs, Special Use Airspace, terrain and weather. Occasionally, you can fly UNDER weather, but there are some significant risks.
After that, of course, there are the normal planning exercises involving checkpoints, times, fuel burns, frequencies, fuel costs, FBO and airport hours, and so on. And don’t forget to plan the return trip. I’ve had some interesting returns. Two Pilatus trips come to mind:
The first was a charter to (the possibly misnamed) Winner, South Dakota. We were taking five hunters out for pheasant season. Being a mostly cautious type, I asked our charter coordinator to get the weights of each of the passengers and the weight of their gear. I don’t believe the declared weights, in any case, but it’s a place to start. Remember the “standard” weight of a passenger from your POH? Mostly it comes in at around 170 pounds and 30 pounds of bags, but these guys were averaging over 200, and closer to 50 pounds of luggage each. Now, when someone declares a weight, it usually is what he saw the last time he hopped onto a scale, and that usually was a few seconds after getting out of a shower, wearing (if anything) a towel. Thank goodness, people don’t travel dressed that way – especially these guys! Although, I can think of a few passengers…but I digress. At any rate, in addition to the normal luggage (for a hunter), these guys brought enough shotguns and ammo to start (and finish) a revolution in most third-world countries. Since I had used a fudge-factor of 15 pounds per person on personal weight, and 20 pounds each on luggage (who weighs luggage?), I was pretty close, as it turns out, but it was a good thing I’d offloaded 500 pounds of fuel, making what under other circumstances should have been a non-stop flight into a two-leg outbound flight. The return, on the other hand involved SIX passengers, less ammo, but LOTS of pheasants, plus going against the wind. We had to stop TWICE on the way home, and even that was tight. Somewhere in the middle of that flight, I sent a text back to the charter company asking if Pilatus had an STC for a roof-rack.
The other one was really simple – fly to Meeker, Colorado to drop off passengers, and wait two days for them in Grand Junction. It was three passengers and minimal baggage, so (unlike the Winner, SD flight), we could make it in one leg. Before takeoff, we’d planned on doing an instrument approach to Meeker – IFR conditions were forecast, but well above approach minimums of 8160 MSL and 1¼ mile visibility. Cloud bases were at 9,500 ft MSL, and the approach minimums were at 8160 MSL, which is about 1800 above the airport. The tricky part of the return was the departure minimums, which are 4100 ft ceiling (cloud bases at 10,500 MSL and 3 miles visibility. The departure procedure, itself, required a VFR climb to 10,500 MSL before proceeding on course. In other words, you can land in conditions that won’t allow you to leave – we could have been stuck for weeks. Fortunately, the forecast was for higher clouds later in the day, and by the time we were ready to leave, we were able to meet the VFR climb requirements. Still, the process brought an important lesson home – make sure you have an exit strategy.
Where are you going? How are you going to get there? If you’re going to follow T. S. Elliot’s “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”, how are you going to get back?